Brexit doors open or shut?

03 December 2020

When opening the door on the advent calendar counting down to Christmas, I was asked if we had one for Brexit too, and if on the 1st January all the doors would be shut rather than opened?  

Should we be surprised that as we entered the final month prior to the end of the UK’s transition period, there remains uncertainty on the basis of our future trading relationship with the EU and a political agreement is still to be reached?

Businesses remain unclear as to their future, which, in turn, leaves uncertainty for ports and all involved in the logistics of moving goods and raw materials. I don’t think ports have been in the news as much in my career as they have in the last four weeks. What will happen? How long will the queues be? Will there be empty shelves?

Of course the uncertainty does not just stem from Brexit. In addition to the immense damage Covid has done to people’s health and their lives, it has also thrown finely balanced international supply chains into disarray with huge peaks and troughs in supply and demand causing capacity issues globally. Problems at ports in the south of the country have been well documented and are reflective of other supply chain pressures felt around the world.

For many, attention is turning from the strategic to the practical; long-term planning has become tomorrow rather than next year.

But this suggests nothing has been prepared and alternative plans have not been made.

New shipping routes have started. There are new ferry routes between Ireland and the continent. Unaccompanied ferry routes from Iberia to northern ports such as Liverpool have grown substantially from nothing to mitigate the many shocks faced and to come. Trade flows from the Dover Straits to East Coast ports, or from RORO to containers, and new rail freight services have flourished to support changing demand patterns.  

I have long argued that large proportions of trade would benefit by moving in “unaccompanied” mode, whether RORO or containerised.  Whilst this continues to be my view, our focus turns to supporting our customers through the end of transition, be they shipping lines, hauliers or cargo owners. This isn’t just through implementing new rules and regulations as efficiently as possible, but also by being ready to respond to problems elsewhere and add capacity where possible to accommodate cargo diverted from more typical routes, as we have done over the last few weeks and months.

The next few weeks will present us all with challenges, and none of us can be certain of what will face us as we turn to our 2021 calendar, but providing resilience to UK businesses who trade internationally has got to be a priority for all.